Having a love of music, forming a band, struggling together, maybe rising to fame and fortune, then falling from those heights, and then figuring out what to do next…it's a version of the Hero's Journey that can be found in real life.
There've been plenty of stories about musicians, and bands, and that kind of journey can make for epic, dramatic, and hilarious stories. As someone who plays music and has been in bands myself, they're quite relatable.
The journey from humble beginnings, the commitment to play together, maybe in dangerous places, maybe to travel to new places and have adventures, usually as younger, innocent people - all the way to the wildness that comes with fame and fortune, and dealing with the pitfalls or fall from grace that comes after - this journey is one with endless stories available (the soundtrack might be there already too, if you're telling a fictionalized ‘true story’ - or it might be the greatest challenge, getting the perfect songs to hold the story together).
Whether it's about the early days and trying to make it, or some later stage of the journey, here are my personal top five choices for movies about bands!
5. That Thing You Do!
Tom Hanks' directorial debut. It's fun, and silly, with enjoyable music and a great cast, including a young Charlize Theron, and a young Steve Zahn (hilarious, and one of my favorite actors). The original cut was a lot longer, and more emotional and epic. The theatrical cut ended up much sillier, lighter, and fast paced, and I personally, I prefer that cut. The main character is a drummer as well, and I was a drummer so that's enjoyable as well.
4. A Hard Day's Night
The Beatles in their early heyday were offered a movie. They wanted it to be silly and fun, and feature a lot of nonsense and running around (I believe these ideas were based on a specific genre in Europe at the time but I don't remember the specifics. It's a blast, and the four members are obviously full of charisma. I've seen HELP! as well, and it's good too, but HDN is my pic.
3. School of Rock
A little different than most “band” stories I guess. It's a down-on-his-luck rocker (Jack Black's signature role) who fakes his way into a substitute teacher gig at a private school, and turns his students into a rocking group to compete in the battle of the bands. It's a sports story really, like the Bad News Bears or A League of Their Own, but with music. One of my favorite comedies, great soundtrack of background songs along with originals, and the group of kids (now adults) still reunite with Jack Black every few years to play a show.
2. The Commitments
I don't know how well remembered this one is now - I never hear anyone talk about it these days, but it loomed large in our heads, my friends and I, back in the day. An enterprising manager pulls together a group of struggling young people in Ireland to build a band. Many classic one liners and a musical lineup of classic R&B (or ‘Soul’) hits. I remember musician/music student I knew then complaining about the fact that the band were trying to ‘make it’ playing cover songs, or complaining that the soundtrack/movie was so popular with unoriginal music, or something. I don't remember his exact complaint. But to me, I thought that the would-be manager, Jimmy, had a gameplan to eventually start writing and recording original music. Really funny movie, with Jimmy's dad having the best one-liners. For comedic one-liners, it's a band movie second only to my number one choice, below…
A handful of honorable mentions come to mind, but I'll just mention two that are great and on a
different day, might make the top five list: La Bamba (the Ritchie Valens story starring Lou Diamond Phillips), and What's Love Got To Do With It (The Tina Turner story starring Angela Bassett). Both get a very high recommendation.
And my top pick:
1. This Is Spinal Tap
A classic, one of the best comedies ever, and established the power of the “fake documentary” style that became huge in movies and on TV years later. Spinal Tap, England's Loudest Band, are doing an American tour to promote their latest album. Their heyday may be behind them, but can they pull off a successful tour? Do they still have enough of an audience? Will they find their way to the stage? Will their drummers continue to meet unfortunate fates? The comedy is so dry, and the actors are brilliant improvisors who are masters at having their characters take themselves completely seriously, no matter how silly things get. There are so many lines that musicians, and non musicians, use to this day. Crank it up to Eleven! It's one of those that gets better every time you watch it. Documentary style comedies had been done before, even ones based on bands (The Rutles was made years earlier, a comedy doc about a band parodying the Beatles). But This is Spinal Tap really made the comedy documentary iconic.
For my personal playlist, these are my faves. What are yours?
Thanks, and I hope we passed the audition.
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